Interpreting social media

Who is posting?

It’s important to understand who the individual posting is. Are they a health professional? If they claim to be a doctor, are they medically trained as an MD/DO, or is their doctorate in another area?

What are the credentials of the individual posting?

Verifying the poster’s training background is also important. Are they trained in the area relevant to the information that is being disseminated? Do they have the clinical perspective to interpret information in the appropriate context? (i.e. is information new or valid to the field of study) This includes medical licensure and board certifications. Board certifications can be searched on websites such as https://www.certificationmatters.org.

Is the information recent?

In a rapidly changing time as the COVID pandemic, it is important to check if new articles are displaying the most up-to-date information.

Check the primary source

Even if information is being disseminated by a reputable news outlet it is important to verify the primary source, whether it’s a medical journal article or press release by agencies like the CDC or WHO. Medical journal articles may only be accessible behind a paywall and at times difficult to statistically interpret, so with these barriers in mind cross-checking with other outlets may be helpful to ensure consistent interpretation.

Cross-check with different outlets

Cross-checking information with multiple reputable sources may help solidify the validity of the information.

If a product is involved, are there conflicts of interest?

When a certain product is discussed, it is important to understand whether the poster has any conflicts of interest or if the studies cited are sponsored by certain manufacturers. Though fact checking these details is not entirely straightforward, the 2010 Sunshine Act promotes transparency in this regard making some information publicly available at https://www.cms.gov/OpenPayments. Unfortunately, specific details such as funding for training activities can be easily misinterpreted from this data.

Read the comments

Part of the beauty of social media is crowdsourcing information. Additional questions are often posted in the comments, and those who have additional insight may often weigh in with a different perspective or further information.

Ask other experts online or in person

If you have access to an expert or your own doctor, it may be helpful to ask them directly, especially if it pertains to your personal health.